On Wednesday morning, Joao DePina will walk into a Massachusetts courthouse to learn whether he could face the possibility of spending a decade behind bars.
His alleged crime? Heckling a district attorney from afar during a live press conference.
DePina repeatedly interrupted then-Suffolk County D.A. Rachael Rollins during a November press conference to criticize Rollins’ professional and personal behavior. His shouts were picked up on local news broadcasts, and Rollins paused on several occasions to ask DePina to stop interrupting her attempt to give an update on two cops who had been shot earlier that day. DePina also livestreamed his tirade, during which he criticized Rollins’ nomination to be a U.S. attorney (she was confirmed to the post in December, becoming the first black woman to be U.S. attorney for Massachusetts).
While DePina’s behavior during the press conference was clearly uncivil and rude, prosecutors say it’s also criminal. DePina was charged in November with one count of witness intimidation in connection to his antics at Rollins’ press conference. He could face between 2.5 and 10 years in prison if convicted.
“This is the most grossly unconstitutional thing I have seen in my entire career,” Marc Randazza, a free speech attorney who is representing DePina, tells Reason. “If the First Amendment means anything, Joao walks free.”